Thai authorities ordered the eviction of the villagers allegedly encroaching on public land and threatened to detain them if they did not comply, citing law and order as a justification. Meanwhile, the villagers said that the authorities were acting in the interests of an oil palm business.
A combined force of about 40-50 policemen, military officers from Vibhavadee Rangsit Camp in Surat Thani and civil servants on Monday morning ordered the villagers of Phoemsap community in Chai Buri District of southern Surat Thani Province to move out instantly, the Southern Peasants’ Federation of Thailand (SPFT) reported.
The authorities alleged the villagers were encroaching on public land and threatened to send villagers who refused to comply to ‘attitude adjustment camp’.
Last month, five military officers reportedly came to the community and ordered the villagers to leave the area. From 3-5 February, the military also detained Peerat Bunrit, the head of the community, the village head and the assistant village head on a military base.
According to the villagers, Phoemsab community is located on a plot of land which belongs to the Agricultural Land Reform Office (ALRO). In 2010, ALRO allowed the villagers to settle on the plots since the concession previously given to Thai Boonthong Company, an oil palm business, ended 14 years ago. However, the company has not moved out.
After the 2014 coup d’état, the company exploited the political situation where villagers are restrained from protesting by martial law and cooperated with the army in an attempt to evict local peasants, the villagers said.
The villagers also claimed that in accordance with the recent agreement from a meeting last month between the People’s Movement for Just Society (P-Move) and Kamol Suksomboon, an Advisor to the Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office, the villagers are permitted to stay and utilise the disputed land plots.
According to Sub Lt Tithikan Wetsit, however, approximately 28 households led by Peerat allegedly encroached on land of the Royal Forestry Department. He pointed out that the land was leased to Thai Boonthong Company, but after the concession ended 14 years ago, the villagers settled in the area. However, the company is currently requesting to renew the concession to utilise the plot.
The officer claimed that in May 2014 the Provincial Land Conflict Solving Committee found out that the villagers had encroached on 108 acres. According to the latest survey, the encroached area covers about 160 acres.
He added that the company has already divided the land into two large plots under a cabinet resolution of August 2014. The first plot of 700 acres was allocated to 220 villagers in the area while the company has now submitted a request to renew the concession for the rest of the land which is about 460 acres.
“I’m not protecting the investors, but following orders from [my] superiors and the rule of law,” said the military officer. “The establishment of civil society organisations to pressure the government because of their problems is against martial law and might be repeated by others.”
On 5 February, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) issued a statement to the commander of the army in Surat Thani to urge a solution to the land conflict in a manner that does not contravene the principles of human rights.